Adventures in Cusco and Lima… and a Side Trip to Arequipa

Fountain - Plaza de ArmasAfter getting up insanely early every day of the trek, I was looking forward to sleeping in, in real beds, at our hostel in Cusco. Unfortunately, after getting up insanely early every day of the trek, my body decided at 6:30 am that this might be a good time to wake up. I tried for about an hour to go back to sleep, but finally gave up and got up and showered around 7:30 am.

We completely packed our things, because Javier had told me when we arrived Friday night that they had someone else coming at 10 am to check into our room. This was no problem because it gave us added incentive to get up at a decent time to finish our errands in Cusco.

We were down for breakfast at 9 am, and enjoyed our final free hostel breakfast of tea and bread with butter and jam. (No more mate de coca, though – I’d had enough of that.)

We gave our luggage and backpacks to Javier to keep in the storage room while we went out to do our final bit of shopping, and were on the street by 9:45 am.

We got some cash at the ATM and walked through Plaza de Armas, which was relatively peaceful at that time of day. Then we went to Gatos Market, where I bought moisturizer (my face was a mess of flaky dryness) and cough drops.

Then we went back to the place that was selling charangos. They didn’t have the same ones we had looked at before, but they had an equally nice one, made of pine, for slightly cheaper (350 soles). The guy almost didn’t want to give it up – he kept playing different songs on it. I joked that he was Eddie Van Halen, and he said he didn’t know anything about that, since he was an evangelical. We bought the charango with no bargaining, and got a bag for it and a “how to play” guide. As we left, I told him, “Dios le bendiga” – God bless you.

We did a bit more shopping through some of the artesans’ markets, finishing up our souvenir shopping for various family members. We ended up with some good purchases that we were happy with.

cusco-02_0005We were done by 11 am and had about an hour to kill before getting into a taxi to the airport. We decided to sit in Plaza de Armas to write a few more postcards, until we realized we had left our only pen in our luggage back in the hostel. Instead, there was a parade of all the schoolchildren in Cusco, dressed in various folk costumes representing different parts of Peru. We sat on a bench in the plaza, facing the street, to watch the parade and take some photos. A very old man came up to us and told me that the group going by was his school. He explained a few of the costumes, then bid us good day and continued on.

Unfortunately nobody else who talked to us as we sat there was as benign. In the course of 15 minutes we had probably two dozen different kinds of vendors accost us and try to sell us things – carved gourds, paintings, finger puppets, and postcards. A couple of girls asked me if I wanted to know of a place to buy some shoes. The worst were the shoeshine boys, who kept insisting that my shoes needed a shine and they were just the right person to take care of it, for 1 sol. Dave and I got very tired of being polite and started to firmly say, “No.” and leave it at that, without the “Gracias” part. The last straw was a young boy who offered to shine my shoes – we both looked at him sternly and said, “No!” and he wandered off saying something like “F–k your mother.” Dave wanted to shout obscenities back at him, but I told him to stop – this is how small children in Peru learn such things.

We were very annoyed and decided it was time to give up on Cusco. We started walking backwards along the parade, to see how long it was, and what else it had to offer. In the process we ran into Ron and Rich, who had just gotten up and were off to do some shopping before leaving that afternoon. We chatted with them for a little while, until we looked across the street and saw Inge and Simon walking along the sidewalk on the other side of the parade (which was just finishing). The four of us went across to greet them, and chatted with them for a bit as well. Rich and Ron asked us if we knew of any good lunch places, and we recommended Coco Loco, which I hope they were able to find based on our directions; and then they went off to finish their shopping. We talked with Simon and Inge just a bit longer, and recommended Sabor de Casa as a good place for the rest of the group (the two of them, plus Aisling & Patrick, and Helen & Luc) to get together for dinner that night. We said goodbye and headed back to our hostel.

We got our stuff out of the storage area and asked Javier to grab a taxi for us. As he went out to find a taxi big enough for all our stuff, we turned on the TV to see how the soccer match was going. England and Portugal were tied in the 87th minute. We were encouraged that we might actually be able to catch the outcome.

Javier came up with the taxi, and we piled our stuff in and headed to the airport. It took us through parts of Cusco we hadn’t yet seen – the real Cusco, where the Cusqueñans shop for meat that hangs in doorways all day and buy American baseball caps from vendors on the street. We were fascinated, but we knew we wouldn’t have felt secure walking through there with any of our belongings.

The taxi ride took 15 minutes at the most and cost us 5 soles (less than $2 for a taxi ride – still amazing). When we got to the airport, there was nobody there, so we got right up to the check-in counter. When we came up to the counter, the airline employee reflexively said, “Tome un asiento”, which means “Take a seat”. He and I both laughed at his mistake and Dave instead started piling our luggage onto the indicated scale. The check-in process was very quick. We then went upstairs to security, where they told us we had to go back down and pay the annoying airport tax. We went back down there, paid the tax, and then went back upstairs. As there was nobody else in the airport, going through security was very quick.

When we got into the gate waiting area, there were literally no passengers for any of the 8 gates, but there were quite a few airport employees sitting watching the soccer match, which was in the second half of extra time. We watched as England and Portugal continued to be tied after the extra time, and then watched Portugal win on penalty kicks. I continued to be amazed at how many games were decided this way.

There was a small cafe inside the waiting area, where Dave and I ordered two empanadas and two Inca Kolas. It was delicious – we were surprised. We finally got a chance to write our postcards, and Dave went to look for a place to mail them – which turned out to be closed.

We moved to a seat closer to the gate, and I read my book while Dave played around with his charango. At 2 pm the Brazil vs France game came on, and it was louder than anything in the airport. I started a conversation with a woman I had seen at the Viajeros Hotel in Aguas Calientes. She was from Colombia originally but was currently living in Buffalo, pursuing a PhD. The research was taking her to Arequipa to do an internship restoring colonial-period art. She was pretty interesting.

The flight attendant for our flight started announcing things, and we told her we couldn’t hear anything, but she told us she was making announcements for the passengers outside the gate waiting area. We paid attention to her for a while as she started making announcements for executive class passengers, etc. The three of us finally realized that there wasn’t much activity going on, so I got up and asked the flight attendant which rows were boarding. She told me they were all boarding, so I notified Dave and the Colombian woman, and we hurried to get on the plane. We probably didn’t need to, since there were only 27 passengers – they probably would have called us by name at some point.

We took off around 2:40 pm, for a 38 minute flight to Arequipa. Yes, it was a bit out of our way, but this was the flight I’d been able to get. It was an interesting side trip. The flight took us over a more volcanic section of the Andes, which frankly looked like a different planet – the colors and the formations of the mountains seemed foreign, and at one point I could have sworn there were topo lines etched into the mountain we were flying over. We flew over Colca Canyon, which is one of the deepest canyons in the world, as well as an amazing volcano, which I believe is called Ampato.

We got to Arequipa around 3:20 pm and had a short wait on the plane while 20 of the passengers got off, and then the plane filled up for the flight to Lima. Arequipa seemed to me to be hot, dusty, and relatively flat. When the rest of the passengers got on the plane, I found myself sitting next to an American, so I talked to him for a while. He was from Wisconsin and was in Arequipa on business, representing a start-up fair trade company called Fair Indigo. He said that Arequipa was actually quite nice – laid back and hospitable, with some good restaurants.

We arrived in Lima at 5:20 pm – thankfully, right on time. We got our bags, and went out to find Ana Maria and Deborah waiting for us. When we got to the parking lot, we loaded up our bags, and then the four of us went looking for Ana Maria’s friend Raquel, who she had to meet up with to see a project that Raquel was working on for Ana Maria’s teachers. We found her quickly and took care of business, and then we headed for home.

We arrived at Ana Maria’s house around 6 pm, and were left to our own devices for a while as the family went to visit Ana Maria’s brother-in-law, who was momentarily in town from somewhere in Asia. We checked our e-mail, Dave downloaded photos from the camera and burned them to CD, I read my book, and he played the charango for a while (laughing all the while at the poor English in the instruction book). I was starting to get very sleepy (and honestly tired of the charango) when Ana Maria came back around 9 pm to pick us up.

Deborah had to stay home to study for a final she had on Monday, but the rest of us headed off in the car to the Jockey Mall, where there was supposed to be some kind of fair, at which Ana Maria’s brother had a booth. Unfortunately it had closed for the evening, so we headed back out, managing not to pay the parking fee.

Ana Maria took us to Barranco, where she introduced us to the Fuente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs), a bridge from colonial times. The bridge went over a pedestrian street that went down to a cliff that overlooked the sea, so we walked under the bridge and down to the overlook.

Dave and I were having flashbacks to Cusco as we walked – all of the restaurants had people standing outside trying to get us to come in. Ana Maria was pretty annoyed by it as well, but on our way back, we said yes to the first offer and ended up at a patio table at the first restaurant that overlooked the street.

Dinner was quite good. Barranco is known as a place to get good anticucho, which is actually cow heart cutlets. It tasted like normal meat and was delicious. We also had yuca as an appetizer, and had fried pumpkin for dessert.

We get home until around midnight, and managed to get to bed around 12:30 pm.

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